Each year thousands of children in developed countries pack boxes of simple toys, crayons and other gifts to share with children in countries where life is often more difficult. They send their box with good wishes — and that is normally the end of it.
Not, however, for two 11-year-old schoolgirls who, at the height of the 1990s Balkan crisis, packed a shoebox with their precious gifts and sent it as part of the Boxes for Bosnia Appeal, a national campaign in the United Kingdom. The special box included a letter, photographs of the senders, and an address in case their ‘unknown friend’ wanted to write back.
Sarah and Rebecca from Stockport, near Manchester, were elated when they got a reply from 7-year old Daniel Presecan. Daniel wrote a lovely letter despite confessing that the only English word he knew was ‘thanks.’ Along with his parents and little brother Michael, he had been displaced due to the Balkan wars, and while trying to re-establish life in northern Croatia, his parents could not afford gifts —Christmas or otherwise— so, for the two boys, that Christmas box was very meaningful. The new pen-friends lost contact a few letters later, but the impression that was made was lasting.
Daniel recently came across those messages from two decades ago, which had been carefully preserved by his mother in the family archive. Using social media, he managed to trace Sarah, who told the Manchester Evening News (MEN) that she ‘just couldn’t believe it’ when she received the message out of the blue.
“We are there because people did help us, thought of us, believed in us, and supported us,”
Erica Hole, a former Director of the School of English at Newbold College of Higher Education, remembers when Daniel first came to England, with hardly more vocabulary than he had as a 7-year-old. Learning English at Newbold, he discovered a culture that would involve itself annually in the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Gift Box appeal.
Today, now age 29, Daniel works in International Development, currently serving as Program Director for ADRA in Central Asia. He credits his success, at least in part, to the kindness of people like Sarah and Rebecca and remarked. “We are there because people did help us, thought of us, believed in us, and supported us,” he said.
Now a mother of two, Sarah expressed her delight at the reconnection. On his own social media account, Daniel wrote, “It was cool to connect with someone 20 years later. And as I have said in [an] article, ‘we are never self-made people, rather a web of humanity whose strength is determined by the strength of the weakest connections and the way we treat them.’”
More than twenty years on, the tradition remains as Sarah’s two children helped pack their own Christmas box last year: perhaps a box that will stimulate another child elsewhere in the world and continue the journey of good will.